5 Key Considerations in Hiring an Environmental Consultant

If you are seeking the assistance of a professional environmental consultant for regulatory compliance, site investigation and remediation, or other reasons, you’ll likely be faced with a surprising choice of firms, from small specialty-practice shops to massive firms listing dozens of services and locations.  So it’s important to carefully evaluate your options to find the right match for your needs.  Here are five key considerations for those seeking a valuable and trusted environmental advisor:

1 – Do they have experience in performing the specific environmental service needed?

There are numerous categories of environmental services offered on the market today, and the profession continues to further specialize itself year after year.  Unfortunately, it’s far too easy for a firm to post a large list of services on their website while having little to no experience in many of them.  And if a company has demonstrated expertise in some of these areas, it doesn’t mean that it has adequate expertise in all of them.  A focused discussion with the consultant regarding their expertise can go a long way in finding the right knowledge leader for your specific needs.

2 – Do they have experience in the regulatory program and/or area that the project is located?

Principles of science and engineering don’t change from one location to the next; but regulatory programs certainly do.  Critical field methodologies and regulatory policies may vary drastically, even across adjacent state borders.  And when it comes to understanding and applying best practices on a complex project, a consultant familiar with local agencies – both their procedures and personnel – can be worth their weight in gold.  For this reason, it’s worth your time to ask a prospective consultant where they’ve done their work, and how well they know the local and state regulatory programs.

 3 – Do the company and its staff have the proper licensing?

Did you know that environmental work involving engineering may only be performed by a firm owned by a state-licensed Professional Engineer (P.E.)?  Or that in a growing number of states, hydrologic investigations and contaminant characterizations must be overseen by a Professional Geologist (P.G.) or other state-licensed site professional? In today’s regulatory world, licensing or certification is often required for agency acceptance of reports and, ultimately, project approval.  This is not necessarily a bad thing; licensure organizations promote standards of quality and expertise, and the environmental field is certainly better for it.

But for those seeking an environmental professional, the way that licensure or other accreditations will factor into a project’s overall success may not be immediately clear, in the face of competing prices and timelines.  A good consultant should be able to clearly demonstrate their firm’s ability to complete a project where licensure is required.  Early awareness of the role that licensure plays in a project will help to avoid pitfalls such as a stalled project – or worse – due to a lack of credentials.

4 – Is the company properly insured and are their insurance limits suitable?

Like most other professional services, environmental firms need to show financial security in the form of insurance coverage.  As is true for all companies, an environmental firm should hold adequate commercial general liability (CGL) and professional liability (aka ‘errors and omissions’) coverage commensurate with the scope and financial scale of the projects they undertake.

But it’s important to remember that most environmental firms will, to varying degrees, engage in work related to pollution prevention, pollution cleanup, or other actions on systems that pose the potential for a release to the environment.  For this reason, a qualified environmental firm should be able to show additional coverage for pollution liability and, preferably, supplemental umbrella coverage that total at least $5 million.

5 – Does your consultant operate with today’s technology?

There has been no greater subject of evolutionary change in the professional service disciplines over the past 25 years than the technology we use.  Field data equipment, survey instrumentation, analysis software, and communications infrastructure continue to become more efficient and accurate.  The use of state-of-the-art technology in environmental projects can bring vastly better results, but a firm must also have the in-house expertise and resources to properly leverage the advantage that modern systems provide.  Today’s most effective firms are those that have embraced technology and have built a culture of expertise that understands the many ways that today’s tech will benefit their clients.